Jon Skeet: The 'Chuck Norris' of programming

By Emma Midgley
BBC News

image copyrightJon Skeet
image captionJon Skeet fits in Stack Overflow around working at Google, preaching and looking after his three sons with his wife Holly

A list of the "world's 15 greatest living programmers" was published by IT World last year, based on names which came up again and again in coder discussion forums. Alongside the woman who programmed Nasa's Apollo flight control software, the creator of the Linux operating system and the man who created the game Doom, was Jon Skeet, a programmer from Reading.

The "Chuck Norris of programming" - a nickname inspired by an internet meme - has become a cult figure for thousands of computer programmers, to the extent he is occasionally pestered for selfies in his Berkshire home town.

This is possibly due to the town being home to tech companies such as Microsoft and Oracle. But his fame within the programming community is global.

Years spent answering coding questions on the popular site Stack Overflow means he has "reached" 139 million people. This week, he appeared in a Donkey Kong homage game produced by a fan on the site.

He holds the top number of "reputation" points on the site - and has done so by quite some margin since December 2008. So much so that some users joke: "When you search for "guru" on Google it says "Did you mean Jon Skeet?"

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMr Skeet is often described as the "Chuck Norris" of programming. The actor is known as the ultimate tough guy and famous for impossible feats

Indian fan Subodh Pushpak raves that Mr Skeet's authority on his subject is "unmatched".

Mr Skeet's current reputation stands at 838,616 points.

"The site is like a Google answer site for computer problems, so he must be very good at answering questions," says fellow Stack Overflow user Chris Shaw.

"I've been on the site for a year, answering questions every two to three days, and I have 10,000 points," he said.

Mr Skeet, a father to three boys, is modest about his achievements

Although he has written 32,599 answers to questions about programming since joining Stack Overflow he says he just "fits it in when he can" around working for Google, looking after his three children and caring for his three Bengal cats - Milly, Starshine and Poppy.

He also preaches at Tilehurst Methodist Church and within the Reading and Basingstoke Methodist circuit. His wife, Holly, has been a children's author for 12 years and often appears at author events, giving them a "crazy calendar".

He says his family find his celebrity status among programmers "amusing". "There are far, far better programmers out there," he says. "Occasionally it's a very bizarre world."

All his Stack Overflow work is unpaid, done purely to help millions of people around the world he will never meet.

He admits he became "hooked" on Stack Overflow after being introduced to it by developer Sara Chipps.

He says his "internet fame", which means he is invited to conferences and interviewed by media outlets, "doesn't hurt either".

He says ultimately his biggest buzz is the sheer volume of individuals he has reached through his many hours on Stack Overflow, everyone from teenagers hoping to create a game, to programmers seeking a solution to a frustrating problem.

"Hopefully I have helped thousands of people," he says. "That's the wonderful thing about the internet.

"I enjoy it, and I hope and believe it's a positive thing for the world in general.

"That's a combination which is hard to beat.

"Answering questions also helps you learn - both by exploring topics where you don't initially know the answer, and by the effort taken to frame your existing knowledge in a way that's understandable by others."

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